NATO members France, Germany and Belgium came under renewed pressure Thursday to end their resistance to having the alliance start military planning to protect Turkey if war breaks out in Iraq.
A special meeting of NATO's policy-setting North Atlantic Council was scheduled to discuss the Iraq crisis in the wake of Secretary of State Colin Powell's indictment of Baghdad's arms programs at the United Nations Wednesday.
Turkey was expected to appeal to the alliance to order its military to begin planning for the deployment of AWACS surveillance planes and Patriot missiles to protect it against any Iraqi counterstrike.
Alliance diplomats said a direct appeal from Turkey coupled with the evidence presented by Powell may sway France, Germany and Belgium. The three holdouts have argued that ordering the military planning is premature and could undermine U.N. efforts to end the Iraq crisis peacefully.
The three holdouts say they have no objections in principle to the proposals for protecting Turkey and other options set out by the United States, which include a possible peacekeeping role for NATO in a postwar Iraq, increased naval patrols in the Mediterranean and filling in for U.S. troops sent from the Balkans to the Gulf.
Also Thursday, Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer began meetings with officials in Italy, whose official pro-U.S. stance on Iraq has differed with Berlin's.
In Berlin, members of Germany's Social Democrats, the governing party, said Powell hadn't presented conclusive proof that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
On Wednesday, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi praised Powell's Iraq speech, saying the American had "authoritatively shown" Iraq was violating U.N. resolutions and maintaining relations with international terrorists.
Berlusconi has been a top U.S. ally in the Iraqi conflict. The conservative Italian premier was one of eight European leaders who signed a statement published in newspapers last week supporting Bush and indirectly taking Germany and France to task for a campaign against U.S. preparations for war.
America's most steadfast ally in the drive toward possible war, Britain, announced Thursday it will increase its Royal Air Force presence in the Gulf to about 100 aircraft over the coming weeks.
The announcement puts in place the final element of Britain's contribution to a possible US-led military attack on Saddam Hussein's regime. Britain is already sending 35,000 troops — including a quarter of its army and its biggest naval task force in 20 years — to the region.
War was not inevitable, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said, but added:
"Time is running out. The Iraqi regime must decide whether it will comply with its obligations or face the consequences."
Some Security Council members disagree that the clock is ticking. CBS News Correspondent Richard Roth reports China, Russia and France all found Powell's case a convincing argument for doing more of what's already being done.
France proposed strengthening weapons inspections in Iraq, including tripling the number of inspectors and placing a full-time monitor in Baghdad to oversee the process.
"The use of force can only be a final recourse," French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin said. "We must move on to a new stage and further strengthen the inspections."
CBS News Correspondent Elaine Cobbe reports French intelligence sources say there was nothing very compelling about Powell's presentation.
And they dismissed his attempts to link Saddam to al Qaeda as old news, adding that it's been known for a long time that bin Laden has links to northeastern Iraq. That part of the country is in the hands of Kurdish rebels and Saddam has no power there.
Of the 15 Council members, only the United States and Britain have voiced support for forcibly disarming Saddam. But Bulgaria and Spain are considered likely members of a coalition should the United States go to war. France has suggested it could veto a resolution calling for war.
China, another veto-bearing Security Council member, also came out in support of continued inspections and said it was ready to make all efforts to avert war.
"It is the universal desire of the international community to see a political settlement to the issue of Iraq and avoid any war," Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said in a prepared statement he read to the council.